Director's Corner: On Parents Education Night and Theme-Based Learning

At our Parents Education night on September 6, we spent a few minutes introducing The Magnolia School integrated theme-based approach: how the staff selects different themes every year and develops collaborative interdisciplinary activities that integrate the big ideas from language-arts, social studies, science and math that we want our curriculum to convey. The concept of theme-based learning is not new. We like it because it is the model that mimics best the natural learning process, whereby the brain learns by making connections between disparate bits of information. It also is a powerful model to prepare our students for the modern world of work, which puts a high value on the ability to synthesize knowledge from different sources, to solve problems and to work with others.

We stressed that it is not, however, an easy model. It is challenging for the teachers who in effect redesign parts of the curriculum every year, unlike what happens with subject-area curricula. And it is challenging for the students who have to think constantly and make up their mind, unlike what happens with rote learning. So it is important to understand that, although theme-based learning may have benefits for every student at small doses, high doses of it are not necessarily the best fit for a particular student's learning style or personality. Some of us are born with an expert brain, a brain that excels at specialization but does not care about synthesis.

Some of us have personalities that thrive at doing what we are told but do not care about prioritizing. Some of us get excellent work done in isolation but do not care for team work. There is nothing wrong with such profiles, and there are still niches in the modern workplace for them. So it is important to regularly review the compatibility between our approach and each student’s style. Complete harmony produces outstanding student performance, a slight mismatch may still be beneficial if it helps opening new horizons, but a clear mismatch will be counterproductive and lead to frustration. A mismatch may be obvious from the start but may also develop as the student grows and changes, hence the importance of regular reassessments.

Other aspects of The Magnolia School's approach to education that we mentioned include:

  • our multi-grade environment, which allows older students to consolidate their skills by helping younger students, but which can also stress some students who have the need to compare themselves to everyone else in the classroom, even students two years ahead,
  • our choice not to test or give grades, instead assessing each student's individual potential and expecting from them the best each can do.
  • and our approach to discipline via respectful problem-solving sessions, based on Dr. Bailey's Conscious Discipline model rather than on reward and punishment models.

Thanks to all who participated. If you could not attend, or have further questions, please talk to your child's teacher or to one of us. Information about our philosophy and educational approach can also be found in the Curriculum Guides that were distributed in your parent folder.